I was talking with a recent design graduate the other day. They were talking about how they were never going to ‘sell out’ by working for a big corporate agency. Their philosophy was pretty simple – as far as they were concerned, working for a big agency would mean working on big client accounts that would always be driven by money, not by the integrity of the art.
I hear this all the time – first from cynical Generation Xers and now from optimistic Millennials. And every time, it frustrates me to see intelligent, smart and talented people constraining their own potential to influence amazing creative work and see demonstrable change. Here’s why the graduate is wrong and you should consider encouraging more people to ‘sell out’.
The bigger your goal, the more crucial it is to have the best people working on your project or team. Big is often better, influence is important and usually, places with bigger budgets have the luxury of investing in better work. People who work in these places have a lot of influence to make change. If you want to change the world, whether through art, creativity, ideas or invention – you ought to be getting yourself into an environment that maximises you and your abilities.
It’s easy to be trapped into thinking that to fulfil our dreams and live up to our ideals – we have to stay independent. We say things like “don’t work for the Man”. I say, no! Don’t let your idea of Idealism prevent you from seizing opportunities that may be bigger than they seem.
The reality is (and I know, because I’ve been there): a competitive price point will only get you so far. In fact, in many circles it will limit your potential client base because you won’t get the opportunities to work on blue-chip projects. There’s a saying in the world of creativity (or any project). You can have cheap, good and fast – but you can only choose two at a time. You don’t want to be remembered for your price point, no matter what your craft.
The Ideal is good – but missing out on the opportunity to do something amazing with it because you’re being stubborn about how you do it? That’s just silly.
It’s our ideals that should take centre stage, in the places where they can have the most influence and opportunity to affect change. I think every design graduate should hanker after an opportunity to work in any big agency they can.
They’ll be surrounded by people who are very good at what they do, with clients that want to do extraordinary work and who have the budget to pay for it too.
When else do you get the chance to nurture your own talents and abilities in a hothouse of the best of the best? You should aspire to be in the very best environments where you can be propelled forward by the talent around you. Learning as much as you can and building influence, learning from those who influence others.
Sometimes we don’t want to ‘sell out’, because our egos get in the way. We don’t want to take the clichéd path, follow the crowd or be seen as somehow corrupted by the big world. We want to be unique or at least that’s what we say, when often what we mean is that we don’t want to lose our independence.
Sometimes we don’t want to ‘sell out’, because it’s intimidating to chase after the best of the best. You have to be driven, focused and you’ll always be confronted with what it means to be Good at what you do.
But it’s as important to be in that space and with the best of the best, as it is not to be caught up in competition for the sake of it. We can separate ourselves from the rat-race too quickly and lose valuable opportunities to be influential and do meaningful work that creates sweeping change.
There’s a bank in my part of the world that shuts down for an entire day once a year. It’s a campaign called ‘Closed for Good’, where every one of over 4500 staff members is given the day to serve their community in whichever way they choose. Pretty awesome, right? What a great way to change the world from the inside of a big corporate bank. Well done, to whoever that sell-out was. What an achievement.
So aspire. Be as good as you can in the place where you can have the most influence. Don’t be afraid to sell out and reap the rewards – you’re probably trustworthy to do good things with them.